We reached the Mitiga International Airport to see off an old friend. We went without any recommendation (wasta), stood quietly and were able to pass through. I keep getting phone calls, messages on various media wondering what it is like in Tripoli-in war situation. We went in car, without any escort, passing by the Abusitta Ferasiya-hippodrome- (many intimate memories).

We had to wait, but things were smooth. Met one local “influential person” who used to boast that he has many links in the Main International Airport-Bengashir and was close to Zintani militias. Now I saw him moving around in Mitiga. Silently thought what he was doing here if he was close to the Zintanis. Maybe he was just trying to impress me by this claim the last time I met him.  He asked me if I needed any help. I said, I was just standing here for a friend.

Better to keep away from such people.


While waiting at the only functioning international airport of Tripoli , my mind’s eye went back to my first association with Mitiga- which was known as the Wheelus Air Base.

Conversations with medical professionals associated with Mitiga military hospital make for many intimate memories of years gone by and helped shape my perspective regarding expatriate life in Tripoli in my initial years.

During the Libyan Uprising of 2011, the main international airport was closed, and the first international flights-by Turkish airlines started from Mitiga. I remember going out of here on October 5, 2011, having stayed in Libya throughout the period of conflict


Shafshoofa Maleshi


A brief summary of the military history of Mitiga

1923-   Mellaha Air Base- established by Italians

1933-   Site of Tripoli Grand Prix

1943-  Captured by British 8th Army

1945   B24 bomdys of the 376th Bombardment Group

1947-April 15- Renamed Wheelus Air base in memory of Lieutenant Richard Wheelus

Who had died earlier in the year in a plane crash in Iran

1950-November- Strategic Air command of B 50, B 76, B47 bombers

1958- Site for Annual Missile Launch Operations

1970-June 11- Handed over to Libya renamed Uqba Ibn Nafi- after the Arab General serving

In the Umayyad Dynasty in Muawiyah and Yazed periods-who began Islamic conquest of

Maghreb-  present day Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco.

Edward Gibbon referring to Uqba ibn Nafi as Akbah, gives him the title “conqueror of Africa,” beginning his story

when he “marched from Damascus at the head of ten thousand of the bravest Arabs.


The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor

without a flutter of the sails and was at rest

The first lines of Conrad’s –Heart of Darkness

The writer-former Bishop of Scotland Richard Holloway, writes about the ability of religion to give humans the capacity of Transcendence. Holloway too had an intimate association with Africa, having been the secretary of the last white Bishop of Accra . Other ways of achieving transcendence- or going beyond day-to-day surface consciousness is by being mindful of the historical background of a place. The tabular summary given above is one way.

For me-the Everyday History Society-interview of one senior pediatrician, taken after the 2011 revolution –under the Oral history guidelines, served as a way to delve into the local history of the place. In understanding his history, the struggles of his parents and grandparents, made one realize many things other than military history of bombers, world war and Cold war.

This doctor’s family was originally from the Mitiga area, his grandfather had been a guard and scrap dealer, collecting remains from the world war. After Independence his father was able to educate himself, learn English, work in a ministry and send his son to Egypt for medical education. He has dedicated his life to medicine and service. Many conversations regarding everyday life gave a window of the locals in the times before Oil wealth changed Libya.


“I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago- the other day…..”

The slow casual remark of Marlow

-in “Heart of Darkness”


                   Arch of Marcus Aurelius-Tripoli.                 

  The oldest free standing structure

of this region -AD 163                                                                         

In better times we used to have regular walks to the Italian cemetery at Shara Mansouri, very near to the pediatrics hospital where the doctor who told of his forefathers from Mitiga area now works. A cemetery need not be a place of sadness. It is a place to celebrate life. In the African tradition, birth and death are taken as essential parts of the life process , and death is not seen as something negative.

During these talks and conversations , studying tombstones and families, many interesting links came alive with families who had made Tripoli their home in the 19th century. Seeing and coming to know some of their descendants in 21st century Tripoli was an enriching experience.








The everyday history of immigrants and locals gives different flavors of life in the same place.

The Italian families who stayed here in the 19th and earlier part of 20th century have a different orientation than the military families staying at the Wheelus Air Base in 1950s/60s. The local Arabs have a different orientation over generations.

The expatriate workers who have been staying here for long, view the different changes in the region after the 2011 uprising from a different lens.

The medical professionals associated with the military base of Mitiga gave many interesting insights into Tripoli life, during my initial days here, over a decade ago



We have visited Mitiga many times over the years.After 2011 civil war, it was from here that I first went out of Tripoli. We were at Mitiga again in 2014, to see off a friend, with the main airport at Bengashir having been destroyed by the warring militias.

We reached there without any recommendation (wasta), stood quietly and were able to pass through.

About prashant bhatt

A doctor in Imaging, photographer, writer likes to read and travel. A regular diarist, journaling since 1983 Reading journal :
This entry was posted in Diary, Everyday History, Tripoli Reading Group and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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